BrewDogging #29: Clerkenwell [inc. Small Venues 2015 exit interview]
Simian Substitute Site For April 2016: The Fool Monkey

BrewDogging #30: DogHouse Glasgow

Doghouse (late Sunday night, it's not always this quiet)[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stockholm, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell]

Last year, at the 2015 BrewDog AGM, a lot of big plans were announced. Many of them involved BrewDog opening new premises that weren't just straightforward bars. A press release listed the following: the ShuffleDog games room, a chain of Dog Eat Dog hotdog diners, the Newington Fix coffee bar, and a restaurant/bar/bottleshop combo called DogHouse.

One year on, let's check on their progress. ShuffleDog has been up and running in Leeds since last July. The Newington Fix has spent a year in planning permission hell, and it's still not certain whether it's going ahead or not. Dog Eat Dog - or at least the initial Angel branch - has been and gone. That leaves us with DogHouse, which opened in Glasgow last autumn to a few grumbles which I noted at the time the Soho bar opened. A few months later, at the end of last January, The Belated Birthday Girl and I headed up to Glasgow ourselves to see if they'd been resolved.

The first thing to say is: fuck you, Frank and Gertrude. Storm Frank hit Scotland at the tail end of 2015, and caused so much damage to the rail infrastructure in the Lockerbie area that even in late January, trains from the south are being re-routed through Carlisle, taking an extra 90 minutes as a result. And as if the delay in getting there isn't enough, we spend most of the weekend in Glasgow cowering from the prospect of Storm Gertrude, which threatens to destroy the rail infrastructure all over again and leave us stranded in Scotland. Despite these fears, the train journey up to Glasgow is slow but uneventful, and for me its highlight is watching The Belated Birthday Girl's amused reaction as we pass the apparently-not-as-famous-as-I-thought-it-was Uncle Joe's Mint Balls factory in Wigan.

We're straight off the train and straight to the DogHouse before checking into our hotel - mainly because we've already got plans for the evening, and want to grab a quick lunch in advance of those. So, we need to talk a little here about what DogHouse actually is. As I described earlier, it's a mixture of three things: a BrewDog bar, an off licence (similar to the BottleDog we've had in London for a while now), and a barbecue restaurant. It's the latter that's the major innovation here, and it's the part of the operation that's had The BBG a little concerned ever since it opened. After watching the bars slowly ditch the meat-heavy Bates menu of old and start catering for other tastes, this seems like a step backwards. A couple of weeks after our visit, the brewery side of BrewDog would boast about how all their beers are (accidentally) vegan, which makes it odd that the restaurant side would open a venue that totally failed to cater for vegans at all.

It's a complaint that people have been raising since DogHouse opened in October last year, and three months later nobody seems to have done anything about it. The menu is basically various types of barbecued meat, a series of meat-infested side dishes like pit beans, and a side portion of mac and cheese as a token sop to the veggies (no potato options at all, which seems bizarre in the circumstances). So while The BBG listlessly picks at a small disposable container of macaroni, I'm theoretically getting the better part of the deal with a quarter of pulled pork and a tub of pit beans. Except I'm not. All the food is served from a canteen arrangement at one end of the bar, where the meat is just sitting around cooked and waiting for someone to ask for it. As a result, the pulled pork is cold, dry and pretty damn uninteresting. I've certainly had much better pulled pork in my time: in fact, the best I ever had was at BrewDog Manchester, before they got rid of all the original ideas in the kitchen and rolled out the standard menu.

The BBG has suggested that restaurant management isn't really this organisation's forte, and both DogHouse and DogEatDog are testament to that. Even the seating arrangements are an awkward compromise between bar and restaurant, with tales of drinkers being ejected from tables with virtually no notice to cater for a prior dining reservation. It's a shame, because the non-restaurant aspects of the venture are fine: the bottleshop has an excellent selection, and the bar does everything we want it to when we return after a Sunday night out. But the restaurant is the main thing people notice - I actually saw one couple go up to the door, and then turn away without entering because "it's not a bar" - and it's not up to BrewDog's usual standard.

This becomes even more obvious when we go across town and visit the original Glasgow bar, which is happily continuing to do what it always did best. The BBG is particularly impressed with barman Dan, who shakes her hand warmly when she presents her shareholder card to get a cheap round. Shortly after that, he's with a table full of Irish girls giving them an impromptu beer tasting. Sure, after a while it becomes apparent that he's mainly targeting the female punters, but he's doing it in a friendly and non-creepy way. And the bar atmosphere seems similarly jolly wherever you look, particularly when you overhear someone on a nearby table talking about DogHouse and casually noting that this bar is better, because "it knows what it wants to be." That's the difference right there. DogHouse is trading on the idea of being several things at once, but that may well end up being its downfall.

Lighthouse (looking down the stairs from the top)We have 48 hours or so to spend in Glasgow: there are two big events that will take up part of our time (we'll get to those soon), plus a couple of nights of sleeping, plus the periods we spend in BrewDog's two Glasgow bars. So, what else is there?

Inevitably, there are a few meals. One of our breakfasts is spent at Wee Guy's, the cafe spinoff from a posher restaurant run by some frightfully rude people. It's fairly traditional Scottish caff fare at that time of the morning, with square sausage on a roll and other such delights. They're closed on Sundays, though, so over the weekend you'll be better off at Warehouse Merchant City, which has lots of fancy breakfast dishes but also lots of tellies showing coverage of Terry Wogan's death. (At least that's the case on the Sunday we're there.)

For larger scale meals, one option we consider is Mother India, a legendary Indian restaurant located quite close to the SECC. Sadly, even on a wet Sunday evening it's all booked out. The nearest curry we can find to that is Bukharah inside the Lorne Hotel, which isn't quite as legendary but still does the job. Book in advance and don't assume you can just walk in, that's the lesson to be learned here. Booking in advance certainly pays off when visiting The Ubiquitous Chip, where we dine splendidly on veggie haggis and pheasant (me) and soup and seabass (her). It's all rather special, including the chips, no matter how satirical they're being about them in the restaurant name.

In the overlap between food and art, an afternoon tea at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Willow Tea Rooms is definitely worth doing, no matter how much of a tourist you feel afterwards. There's more worship of the great man at the Lighthouse, Scotland's national design and architecture centre. Aside from the various exhibitions inside (including a permanent one on Mackintosh himself), there's also the glorious walk up to the top of the Lighthouse tower itself, and the views of the city you get from there. If you still need more art after that, there's always the Gallery of Modern Art. The exhibition of work by former Glasgow School of Art graduates, Devils In The Making, has its moments, although it's frustrating to find that many of the other parts of the gallery are closed on that day. Just bad luck, I think. (We were hoping to get across town to see the Billy Connolly exhibition at the People's Palace, but Storm Gertrude scared us off from roaming too far away from Central Station, so GoMA was our compromise.)

We also head out to The Stand on Saturday night - when we're in Edinburgh we're regular visitors to the Edinburgh branch, so a trip to the Glasgow one seems like the thing to do. Local lass Susan Morrison does her usual brash job introducing the acts, and it's interesting to see how the Scottish comics on the bill come off much better than the English ones. John Ross does some smart material on the tension between the east side and west side of Glasgow: Jamie Macdonald has the place in hysterics with an entire set riffing on his blindness and people's reactions to it. By comparison, Tony Jameson feels like more of a warmup act than a main part of the evening, while headliner Nick Wilty never quite recovers from noticing that people are walking out halfway through his set. We work out too late why that is: the SPT subway stops dead at 11.20 on Saturday night, and he's come on stage shortly before the last train leaves. We stick it out to the end of the show, but then have to walk home via Sauchiehall Street, which is an educational experience in its own right.

Shithouse (self portrait in a Virgin Trains toilet)As I've said before, when it comes to these city visits, we always try to make sure there's a hook above and beyond simply visiting the bar. And in Glasgow's case, we had one - a Sunday night event that justified travelling up there for a whole weekend. But what happens when you discover there's a second, clashing event on at the same time? That second event was a gig by They Might Be Giants at ABC Glasgow. However, at the same time as that gig was announced, we discovered the possibility of a way round the problem: because as well as their usual evening show, they were doing a 2pm matinee for families. I think that going to the family show is a perfect solution: the kiddiephobic BBG is less convinced.

In the end, it turns out that The BBG is more or less right. They've laid out the ABC with stacker chairs to ensure that people of every age get a clear view of the stage: but at the top of the show the band announces "everybody stand up!" and the whole effect is bollocksed. It rapidly becomes apparent what this family show is all about: a small proportion of the audience may well be young kids who like the songs, but the bulk is made up of hipster families who are too tightfisted to hire babysitters, holding their kids up in front of the PA and yelling "Listen to this! It's good! Not like that Frozen soundtrack you keep playing!" The band themselves are as fine as ever, and do some of their best child-friendly songs (I have a particular fondness for this one), but it's one of those occasions where the rest of the audience gets in the way of your fun.

Of course, there was always a risk that the same thing would happen at Limmy Live! at the SECC later the same day. Having documented the growing popularity of Limmy's Show, first on my own site and then for Mostly Film, I jumped at the chance to see him recreate his characters on stage in his home city. But could Limmy's audience be trusted with this material? Wouldn't I just be trapped in a room with 1200 people who want to yell catchphrases like “I lost three years of my life on heroin, and another five years on a methadone programme that was meant to get us off it” along with him?

Well, it turns out that Limmy's a bit smarter than that. As he says in his 'and this is me' introduction at the start, he intends to present some sketches we know and love "...but with just a wee twist." And the way he cranks up the cheesiness on that line warns us that even if we're looking forward to some changes, he'll make damn sure that they're changes that'll make us uncomfortable. Like the early sketch that unexpectedly ends in a character dying in an agonising fashion for a couple of minutes. "It hurts... it hurts in a new way... aaaaahhhhhh... [dies] [pause] [brightly] Y'know, that sort of twist."

It's still a sketch show, and there are inevitably low points, most notably during the pre-recorded video interludes used to cover costume changes. Where it really takes off is in the parts where Limmy gets the audience involved - a decision which leads to a lazy Guardian reviewer describing it as panto. The truth is, the show couldn't have been anything else. When Falconhoof bounds onto the stage, you know the sort of things the audience will be shouting out: when Jingle The Jester joins in, you know exactly what they'll be shouting. Limmy's masterstroke is to integrate that into the storyline of the sketch, in such a way that it can only work when the audience is yelling that.

The dream team of Alan McHugh, Paul McCole and Kirstin McLean provide their usual excellent support in the sketches. McHugh's hangdog charisma gets a terrific showcase when he takes on the part of Dee Dee's dad, a role he was born to play. ("What's wrang wi' ye, son?") And the Dee Dee sketch is a terrific step up even from the heights of his TV appearances: a monologue that owes a lot to the lessons Limmy learned while writing his Daft Wee Stories book, it's tightly constructed, crammed with subtext, and has an explosively brilliant punchline. It's the perfect blend of old and new Limmy, and hopefully this show should work as a farewell outing for these characters, clearing the decks for all sorts of unimaginable new stuff. Or, he'll take it on a never-ending tour and run it into the ground. His call.

Despite all our worries about the Glasgow weather, my MostlyFilm colleague Hankinshaw has the right attitude to it: "all this talk of Storm Gertrude 'battering' Scotland is, frankly, racist." And apart from a bit of unpleasant drizzle on the Monday morning, Gertie holds back long enough for us to be able to get our train back to London safely. Thanks for having us, Glasgow! See you next time. But see if you can do something about that tired-looking pulled pork before we come back.


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